Cultural Value Orientations: a Comparison of Magazine Advertisements From the United States and Mexico

John A. McCarty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Patricia M. Hattwick, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
ABSTRACT - This paper suggests that the understanding of cultural value orientations may be important when marketing products and services to other cultures. Cultural value orientations represent the basic and core beliefs of a culture; these basic beliefs deal with human's relationships with one another and with their world. The study evaluated the extent to which value orientations were present in advertising from the United States and Mexico. The analysis showed that the majority of ads did not express core cultural beliefs. Furthermore, when value dimensions were displayed in advertising, the position expressed on the dimension tended to be related to the nature of the product advertised rather than the orientation of the culture in which the ad appeared.
[ to cite ]:
John A. McCarty and Patricia M. Hattwick (1992) ,"Cultural Value Orientations: a Comparison of Magazine Advertisements From the United States and Mexico", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, eds. John F. Sherry, Jr. and Brian Sternthal, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 34-38.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, 1992      Pages 34-38


John A. McCarty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Patricia M. Hattwick, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


This paper suggests that the understanding of cultural value orientations may be important when marketing products and services to other cultures. Cultural value orientations represent the basic and core beliefs of a culture; these basic beliefs deal with human's relationships with one another and with their world. The study evaluated the extent to which value orientations were present in advertising from the United States and Mexico. The analysis showed that the majority of ads did not express core cultural beliefs. Furthermore, when value dimensions were displayed in advertising, the position expressed on the dimension tended to be related to the nature of the product advertised rather than the orientation of the culture in which the ad appeared.

A debate in marketing over the past few years relates to the issue of how to market products internationally. The central aspect of this issue is the level of standardization that can be achieved when marketing in different cultures. Levitt (1983) has argued that the world is becoming more similar and more Westernized, therefore, companies desiring to market their products internationally can realize economies of scale by marketing globally with a single strategy. While such a possibility is enticing, many major blunders in international marketing such as those outlined by Ricks, Fu and Arpan (1974) are still fresh in marketers' minds. Kotler (1986), among others, has cautioned against the extreme position held by Levitt. Keegan's (1989) discussions of global marketing management clearly indicate that a decision on how to market internationally is a very complex one and relates to all aspects of the marketing mix. Therefore, which direction to take with regard to the issue of global marketing versus more local marketing will likely relate to the nature of the product, the business environment, and the cultures where the product is to be marketed. Wind (1986) suggests that the level of standardization may indeed differ as a function of which aspect of the marketing strategy is being considered. Clearly, international marketing is complex process and it is likely that standardization across all the marketing variables will be a rarity.

Given that complete standardization will generally be an unusual case, it would seem that an understanding of culture and cultural differences will be important to those who desire to market internationally. Culture is the complex system of meanings that a group has in common and this set of ideas may be very different from the culture of another group. Culture pervades every aspect of a society and affects the thinking and acting of every member of a group. Yet because culture is so pervasive and basic to a group, there are subtleties about the culture that group members may know and understand, but are unable to articulate to others outside of the group. This, in a sense, is the fundamental problem of understanding a different culture from one's own: members of the culture may not be able to clearly articulate the culture to an outsider since the culture is such a basic part of their lives.

McCarty (forthcoming) has suggested that a starting point for understanding a culture and differences in cultures may be cultural value orientations. Kluckhohn (1951) defined value orientations as "a generalized and organized conception, influencing behavior, or nature, of man's place in it, of man's relation to man, and of the desirable and nondesirable as they may relate to man-environment and interhuman relations (p. 411)." Cultural value orientations, therefore, represent the most basic and core beliefs of a society. These beliefs form the central understandings that members of the culture have and, as suggested by Kluckhohn, they relate to human's relationship with one another and the world around them. McCarty argued that an understanding of these core beliefs may be important for those who wish to market their products in different cultures.

Cultural Value Orientations

Different cultural value orientations have been discussed by numerous social scientists over the past few decades (Hofstede 1984; Kluckhohn 1956; Kluckhohn and Strodbeck 1961; Triandis 1989). These authors have identified dimensions on which cultures may vary and several of these will presently be discussed.

Individualism-Collectivism. The dimension of individual-collectivism relates to human's relationship with one another and it has been investigated by several social scientists (Hofstede 1984; Kluckhohn and Strodbeck 1961; Triandis 1989; Triandis, et al. 1988). Individualistic societies are those which value the individual relative to the group. Individual achievement, recognition, etc. are encouraged and rewarded. Collectivistic societies, on the other hand, place an emphasis on the group rather than the individual. Individuals are important only in that they are members of the group. Collectivistic cultures stress cooperation among group members and the importance of group goals rather than individual goals.

Research has generally shown many of the industrialized countries such as the United States, Sweden, Great Britain, and Germany are individualistic cultures, while Mexico, Peru, Thailand, and Chile are relatively collectivistic cultures (Hofstede 1984). Triandis (1989) has noted that cultures tend to evolve from collectivistic to individualistic as they become more industrialized. Therefore, it is likely that counties like Mexico are moving toward more individualism as time passes.

Masculinity-Femininity. The dimension of masculinity-femininity deals with the extent to which the characteristics of one sex are favored in the culture relative to the characteristics of the other sex (Hofstede 1984). Therefore, this dimension relates to the extent to which a particular culture values traits associated with males such as achievement, aggression, and dominance versus the extent to which the culture prizes such feminine characteristics as nurturance, helpfulness, and affiliation.

Mexico, Japan, Italy, and Switzerland are highly masculine cultures while Sweden, Norway, Chile, and Denmark represent feminine cultures (Hofstede 1984). The United States is somewhat in the middle on this dimension, but tends to lean toward being more masculine than feminine.

Time Orientation. Kluckhohn and Strodbeck (1961) argued that cultures may vary in terms of whether they are primarily oriented toward the past, the present, or the future. Past oriented societies tend to have reverence for tradition and their cultural heritage. Such cultures are apt to believe that the way things have always been done is the way that they should continue. Future oriented societies tend to embrace the future and, in a sense, look forward to change and all that the future will bring. Other cultures live for the present and, as Kluckhohn and Strodbeck note, consider the past as unimportant and the future as unpredictable. For these cultures, therefore, an orientation toward the present is the only one that makes any sense.

As Kluckhohn and Strodbeck point out, the United States is a very future oriented society. Members of this society believe that the future will generally bring good things and members of the culture orient themselves toward that eventuality. The evidence suggests that most Spanish-American cultures, including Mexico, tend to have a present orientation.

Uncertainty Avoidance. Cultures vary on the extent to which they are willing to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty (Hofstede 1984). As Hofstede notes, uncertainty about the future tends to create anxiety and stress and societies differ on the extent such uncertainties exist and the extent to which the uncertainty and resulting anxiety is avoided or tolerated. Generally speaking, high avoidance of uncertainty is more common among cultures which are experiencing a rapid change such as newer democracies while more advanced societies, such as the older democracies, tend to have more tolerance for uncertainty. Mexico, Japan, Spain, and Greece are examples of cultures which have relatively high avoidance of uncertainty, according to Hofstede, while the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Hong Kong are cultures which tend to have a greater tolerance for uncertainty.

Activity Orientation. Activity orientation focuses on the stance which a culture takes with regard to action versus reflection. As Kluckhohn and Strodbeck (1961) indicate, doing versus being as stances toward human activity have been discussed in much of the philosophical literature over the centuries. Doing cultures are those which place a premium on activity and action. Accomplishment is considered important in these cultures and one can only accomplish something by acting or doing. Being cultures, on the other hand, focus on reflection and understanding.

The United States is a very doing oriented culture (Kluckhohn and Strodbeck 1961). This is apparent in almost every aspect of the culture of the United States. Accomplishment and action tend to be rewarded in this culture. Traditional cultures tend to be more being oriented compared with advanced cultures.

Human's Relationship with Nature. Kluckhohn and Strodbeck (1961) argue that how humans view nature and their relationship with it is yet another basic arena with which humans must deal. They identified three stances that a culture can take concerning nature. A culture can feel that it lives in harmony with nature, it is dominant over nature, or that it is subjugated to nature. Cultures which believe they are subjugated to nature feel that there is little they can do about the forces of nature, while cultures which hold a dominance stance believe that they can control and change natural forces. As Kluckhohn and Strodbeck note, the culture of the United States tends to believe in dominance over nature while most Spanish-American cultures take a subjugation stance with regard to nature.

The cultural value orientations that exist in a culture reflect the general leanings of a culture as a whole. The beliefs of individuals within any given culture on particular value dimensions may vary and deviate from the general stance of a given culture. The extent to which there is homogeneity or heterogeneity of individual beliefs within a culture is itself a dimension on which cultures may vary. Triandis (1989) argues that there are "loose" cultures which tolerate differences in people and there are "tight" cultures which are relatively intolerant of differences. Tight cultures have stronger sanctions against norm violations, for example, than loose cultures.

It should also be stressed that value orientations may change over time. As previously pointed out as cultures become more Westernized and industrialized, they tend to become more individualistic. These changes may be apparent in advertising. Mueller (1987), for example, showed that advertisements from Japan tended to reflect the Western value of individualism rather than the traditional collectivistic nature of that culture.

The Present Study

The present investigation had several related purposes. The primary question was to what extent are cultural value orientations reflected in the advertising of a culture? Similar comparisons have been made previously by numerous authors (e.g., Belk and Bryce 1986; Mueller 1987; Tansey, Hyman and Zinkhan 1990; Tse, Belk and Zhou 1989; Wayne 1956) for a variety of cultures including Japan, the Soviet Union, China, Hong Kong, Brazil, and the United States. Most of these studies compared the advertising of different cultures, however, the comparisons were not always at the level of core cultural value orientations. The current investigation compared print advertising in the United States with that of Mexico on the several value-orientation dimensions discussed.

One purpose of the analysis was to determine the extent to which value orientations are expressed in advertising. It has been argued that these basic value dimensions are important for marketers to understand if they choose to market internationally. This importance does not necessarily mean that value orientations will be expressed in advertising. That is, even though core beliefs are important to a cultural group, these beliefs may not represent the best appeal for products or services. It is expected, therefore, that while value orientations may be represented in ads, they will not necessarily be the main appeal. The analysis in the study evaluated the way in which the value orientations were present in the ads.

An additional aspect of the analysis related to the extent to which expressed value-orientation appeals are consistent with the stance of the culture or inconsistent with the cultural beliefs. Intuitively, it would seem that the values expressed in advertising would be consistent with a culture's beliefs. As noted, however, Mueller (1987) has suggested that value orientations expressed in advertising may tend to be consistent with the direction in which a culture is evolving rather than the traditional beliefs of the culture.


Print advertisements in magazines published in the United States and Mexico were analyzed to determine the prevalence of cultural value orientations in the advertisements. This study was an initial exploration in the evaluation of cultural value orientations in advertising. It was designed to aid in identifying important issues and concerns for future work in this area and to evaluate whether the study of cultural value orientations in advertising is a fruitful research path. Therefore, the following represents a preliminary analysis based on the coding of values themes made by one coder. The coder, fluent in both English and Spanish, analyzed the advertisements in both the Mexican and American magazines. Therefore, this reports work in progress and the results and conclusions should be considered tentatively, given that multiple coders have not been used.

The value orientations of interest in the current study were individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, time orientation, activity orientation, human's relationship with nature, and uncertainty avoidance.

Mexico and the United States were selected for investigation since these two cultures tend to differ on the value orientations that were investigated. The United States is very individualistic, future oriented and oriented toward doing. This culture tends to believe in mastery over nature and is relatively tolerant of uncertainty. Mexico is a relatively collectivistic society which is present oriented and oriented toward being rather than doing. The one dimension which these two cultures do not differ dramatically is masculinity-femininity. Mexico is a highly masculine culture while the United States is a relatively masculine culture. One hundred ninety-five Mexican advertisements from eleven magazines were analyzed, while 100 advertisements from six magazines from the United States were analyzed. A variety of magazines in both cultures were used, including women's magazines, men's magazines, parenting magazines, and gossip magazines.

The analysis of cultural value orientations in the advertising was conducted in the following manner. An advertisement was evaluated to determine whether each of the cultural value orientations was present in the advertisement or not. If a value-orientation was present, it was further analyzed to see if the orientation was consistent or inconsistent with the culture. For example, if individualism was expressed in an advertisement from the United States, it would be coded as a consistent value-orientation. In a Mexican advertisement, an expression of individualism would be coded as inconsistent. A third aspect of the coding related to the level that value orientations were expressed in the advertisements. The three levels at which the value orientations were coded as present in an advertisement were 1) the value-orientation was the main appeal of the advertisement, 2) the value-orientation was an appeal in the advertisement but not the main appeal, or 3) the value-orientation was present in the advertisement, but was not used as an appeal.


Thirty-five percent of the advertisements from the United States displayed at least one of the value orientations that were investigated. Forty-one percent of the Mexican advertisements had one or more of the value orientations present. Table 1 shows the percentages of the advertisements containing each of the value orientations for the magazines from each of the cultures. The table also indicates the extent to which the displayed value orientations are consistent with the culture or inconsistent with the orientation of the culture.

As the table indicates, the individualism-collectivism dimension and the activity orientation dimension were the two value orientations that were displayed in the advertising most frequently for both cultures. All other value orientations were present in less than 10% of the ads in both cultures. In the case of individualism-collectivism, a slight majority of the advertisements were consistent with the culture. That is, 61% of the ads from the United States that dealt with this dimension were individualistic; 53% of the Mexican ads dealing with individualism-collectivism were collectivistic. Therefore, a sizable percentage of ads in both cultures were inconsistent with the dominant orientation of the culture.

For the activity orientation dimension, all of the advertisements from the United States dealing with this dimension were consistent with the doing orientation of the culture. For Mexican advertisements, nearly all of the ads relating to this value-orientation were also of a doing theme, thus being inconsistent with the dominant orientation of the culture. This doing orientation in the ads seems to relate to the nature of the products advertised. Most advertised products solve some problem for consumers and thus action to solve the problem must be taken by the consumer. In other words, most products tend to relate to doing rather than being.



For other value-orientation dimensions, the percentages were too small to evaluate the importance of the level of consistency with the cultural orientation. It was noted during the analysis that the orientation expressed in the advertisements appeared to be a function of the nature of the product. For example, the majority of ads dealing with uncertainty avoidance were for pregnancy tests; the inherent nature of such a product is to alleviate uncertainty and anxiety about pregnancy.

For only 22% of the ads from the United States and 19% of the ads from Mexico, the value-orientation mentioned in an advertisement was the primary appeal. The value-orientation in the ad was a secondary appeal for 52% of those from the United States and 60% of the ads that showed a value-orientation in Mexico. The value-orientation was merely present in 25% of the instances for the United States and in 21% of the Mexican ads that displayed a value-orientation.


A number of tentative conclusions can be drawn from this preliminary analysis of advertisements from the United States and Mexico. Although it has been argued that the core cultural value orientations are important in international marketing, the current results indicate that appeals to these values do not appear in advertising very frequently. A majority of ads from either culture expressed none of the value orientations. In only a few instances was a core cultural value the main appeal of an ad. Moreover, appeals to a value dimension were often inconsistent with the traditional stance of a culture.

While most cultural values are rarely represented in advertising, these tentative results indicate that individualism-collectivism may be an important dimension, relative to the other dimensions studied. This dimension was represented in nearly one third of the ads in both the United States and Mexico.

The analysis suggests that the nature of the products advertised affects the way a value dimension is portrayed in an advertisement, regardless of a culture's traditional stance on the dimension. For example, even in a being oriented culture where members prize refection rather than action, ads tend to express a doing theme since most products are designed to help people accomplish something.

The analysis also indicated that recent trends in cultural beliefs may be important in advertising, regardless of the traditional beliefs of a culture. Although the United States is a culture that has traditionally believed in dominance over nature, the recent greening movement is consistent with a harmony with nature stance. It is the harmony with nature position that was apparent in a few of the ads that displayed a theme related to human's relationship with nature.

These results do not mean that a knowledge of cultural values is unimportant for marketers. The results do show that for current advertising in the United States and Mexico, appeals to these core beliefs do not form the basis for most promotional appeals. This is not surprising, if one considers that fact that these cultural beliefs are very basic and, hence, are not likely to form the basis of effective advertising. Although not critical for promotion decisions, an understanding of the value orientations of a culture may be essential for the design of distribution systems, packaging and other product decisions, and other aspects of the international marketing program.


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